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Essay

From the Artistic Director: This Flat Earth

By Tim Sanford, Artistic Director

“The Majesty and burning of the child’s death. I shall not murder The mankind of her going with a grave truth Nor blaspheme down the stations of the breath With any further Elegy of innocence and youth.” “A Refusal to Mourn the Death, by Fire, of a Child in London” – Dylan Thomas 

“A long time ago, people believed the earth was flat. Everybody asked where the edge was, but were too scared of falling off to try and get there. ’Cause this flat earth…isn’t flat at all. Now we think it’s funny they thought that, but really everybody was just always asking dumb stupid questions. It is occupying to think what’re the questions right now that in the future people will laugh at us for not answering? Maybe there’s even a New World to find.”  – This Flat Earth, Lindsey Ferrentino 

The day after the election, I texted my son, a Bernie supporter who’d just voted for the first time. “How are you?” I asked. “The Dems got what they deserved,” came his concise reply. In that moment, it all came back to me: yo-yoing between the exhilaration of collective activism and the helpless cynicism bred in defeat, I suddenly felt how much deeper his own dejection was than mine. My own adult brain convolutions emptied into vapor as I felt in my gut the sickening realization that the future I feared to conceive that morning was not just empty conceptualizing for my son and for all our children; it was their reality. I felt this even more keenly when I talked to my 15-year-old. He met the news with a slew of grim one-liners, but what most disturbed me? He didn’t seem shocked. 

Later in the office, Associate Artistic Director Adam Greenfield and I met in the hallway and shrugged helplessly. Then he handed me a script: “I think this one may have just moved to the top of the pile,” he said. So I sat down and read it. As I gleaned its central premise — a middle-school girl, Julie, prepares to go back to her school that has been shuttered because of a school shooting — my conversations with my sons began to reverberate for me. Julie has not asked for the world she has been handed to live in. And the adults seem to have nothing to offer but decorum and sanctimony. Then, when they hit a bump in the road back to so-called normalcy, the adults cling to rules and structure. So Julie and her best friend, Zander, endeavor to take matters into their own hands. 

Plays rarely make 13 year olds their protagonists, in part perhaps because of the casting challenges. Yet it’s certainly a very dramatic age. There is a reason Jewish culture celebrates the ritual of the passage from childhood to adulthood at 13. Well the real reason is puberty, but the articulated message tends to emphasize the passage out of childhood. “Come join the adults, enter the age of reason. You are on the path.” In This Flat Earth, Julie has no guidance into her adulthood. And even if she did, who are we kidding? Look at the world she is trying to navigate. Have received traditions made it what it is? Is she safe? Is there a place for her? I wanted to produce this play as soon as I finished it. What world are we giving our children? They deserve more than decorum and sanctimony. The future belongs to them. If there’s a new world to find, they will discover it. Or maybe they will make it. Let’s get out of their way.